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Which spread is best?

August 18, 1998|By Lynn Little

Less than a generation ago, consumers had four choices to use in baking -butter, oil, shortening or lard. Today we have more than 60 fat and fat-like spreads from which to choose. In addition to the several variations on butter, there are margarines, blends and spreads, plus all the diet and light varieties.

Which spread is best? The answer depends on your dietary needs and the intended use of the spread. If you just need a spread for your morning toast, a diet, whipped or light margarine or blend provides plenty of flavor for few calories. However, if you are sauteing onions, frying eggs or making cookies, a light or diet margarine may produce less than satisfactory results. Many of the diet margarines sizzle down to nothing in the bottom of a skillet.

--cont. from lifestyle--

By law, only products that have an 80 percent fat content can be labeled as butter or margarine, although the fat in butter comes from milk and the fat in margarine comes from vegetables or meats.

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Products that contain less than 80 percent fat are usually labeled as spreads; however, there is no legal definition for spread as there is for butter and margarine. Such products contain a higher percentage of air, water and stabilizers than regular margarine or butter.

Most recipes are developed for use with full-fat butters or margarines. If you decide to use a low-fat spread, be prepared for some differences in the finished product.

When using a low-fat spread in cakes, cookies and quick breads, expect a thinner batter. Also expect a product that is more likely to stick to the pan during baking and to be less brown when done.

You can compensate by making sure your pan is well-greased and by taking it out before it's overdone.

Cakes made with low-fat spreads tend to be less tender and have a coarser texture than cakes made with regular butter or margarine, but they are less likely to fall. When cookies are made with a low-fat spread, the dough tends to be softer and the cookies more cake-like in texture.

Low-fat spreads generally do not work as well as regular spreads in pastries, candies or when sauteing or frying. They also have a tendency to make popcorn soggy. In such cases, you may be better off using less of a full-fat product or using the full amount of regular butter or margarine called for and eating a smaller portion.

Whether you choose a low-fat spread or regular margarine, read the label, and select one that has a liquid oil as the first ingredient.

Partially hydrogenated oils are high in transfatty acids and tend to have as many artery-clogging properties as the saturated fats found in butter.

For information about fats and oils, send a self-addressed, 32-cent stamped business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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